semi-retiring, work life balance, lifestyle block living


September 2015

Off road

Clifftop walk to work - looking down to Browns Bay and along the coast
Clifftop walk to work – looking down to Browns Bay and along the coast

In the middle of next week, I finish my secondment and return to work at East Coast Bays Library. One of the reasons I am looking forward to being back is its proximity to home, the commute being a mere hop, skip and a jump. OK, so I exaggerate!  It is, to be entirely truthful, 5 minutes by car or 20 minutes by foot.

In the past I have mixed this journey up by driving some days and walking others. When using foot power, I would stick to the roads as it was slightly quicker than the alternative tracks. It was however noisier with cars scooting past, and included a blind corner which the pedestrian crossed at their peril.

When I walk, exercise is always the secondary consideration; this precious time is used for thinking. Indeed, many a domestic quandary or world dilemma has been sorted while I am strolling at a leisurely pace.  Following the road with its accompanying distractions, therefore, is not ideal. The tracks along the clifftop with the breathtaking views and quietness is the way to go, and this is exactly what I plan to do next week. This will be much more more conducive to thinking, not to mention a good salve to stress.

The intention is that Shank’s pony will be my preferred way of travelling to work. This choice means my car will get little, if any use, during the working week.  And the chances are high that if the existing weekend pattern continues, my car will remain parked in the garage Saturday and Sunday too.

The question that I have to resolve if this happens is: do I keep my bat mobile or do I sell it? Now I know there will be some days when the weather is not kind and walking will be off the agenda, but the man’s schedule is such that he can drop and pick me up from work in the family’s car  (note the name change) without major disruption.

The big ‘but’ is there will be times when we both need access to the car at the same time.  On most occasions, we can probably sort out a solution, but there will be times when there simply isn’t a workable one. One vehicle will then be limiting, even inconvenient. So is selling my car the right thing to do?

I should state here that my machine is not worth a lot: it is a fourteen year old Honda Civic in very tidy condition with 117,000 ks on the clock. A reliable machine, it  has cost me little to run over the two or so years I have had it.  If I sold it, I would get under $5,000 for it – so the sale price, if invested, would fall well short of giving me an income large enough to retire tomorrow.

The major plus in not keeping my car is a reduction in our outgoings with registration, maintenance and insurance costs for a single vehicle only.  There would be a slight increase in running expenses for the one vehicle, as it would be used more, but my guess is that this would still be considerably cheaper than using the two cars.

Every living cost that we save makes reducing our working week to three days more achievable, of course. This is an attractive scenario. It also fits well with our commitment to downsizing too.

So is the second car history? Well, no. The fact is I don’t want to forgo the independence and convenience of having my own set of wheels to be able to achieve our goal of working less to live more. And I don’t have to. I can, in this case, afford to keep the car without saying adios to the desired work life balance.

For the man and me, slow living and downsizing has never been about making life difficult, it has always been about making it better. The hair shirt has no place here.

Made here

While in Mt Maunganui on holiday recently, I bought a dress. It was purchased with an occasion in mind – a wedding in October – and matched the criteria I try to adhere to when buying something: New Zealand designed and made.

I adopted this approach a number of years ago and have found that sometimes this lofty aspiration works out and sometimes it doesn’t. So why do I opt to buying locally made goods when I can? The answer is simple.  I believe that by choosing to buy products made here, I am doing my bit to support the New Zealand manufacturer.  I should say at this point, my contribution to this worthy cause is negligible, as no one in their right mind would ever accuse me of being a big spender.

Expanding on my rather simplistic rationale, I do believe that purchasing NZ made is good for the economy as it provides employment*, ensures a labour force with a diverse skill base, and reduces the country’s reliance on imports. Indeed, our  trade deficit with those rather large figures is not something to be proud of.**

As a general comment I have found NZ products to be well made, and I guess if they are not, I have the capacity to easily hunt the manufacturer down and have a conversation.  Sure, in some cases it may cost more to buy things made here than the imported equivalent, but as far as I am concerned, the benefits far outweigh the slightly lighter purse that can result.

For the consumer, establishing whether something is made here can be problematic however. This happened with the man’s bike. With the best of intentions, we purchased a NZ made bike. The tag line on the company’s website site said ‘ a world class bike from New Zealand’ , so we presumed it was made here. It wasn’t. It transpired that most, if not all, of the componentry was manufactured offshore. The only construction taking place in Aotearoa was the assembly. A lesson learned.

Now as every girl knows, if you buy a dress, especially one that was significantly marked down, it is obligatory to get new shoes. Needless to say, I wanted heels made in NZ.  I hit the internet. At no stage did I think finding a suitable pair would be an issue, after all I had managed to source NZ made gumboots at a chain store (no free advertising in this post, folks) and my scruffy slippers were proudly made here too.

I was wrong. Yes, there are some NZ shoe manufacturers, but the range of shoes on offer was limited and not what I was looking for. This woman was not going to give up though. I resorted to contacting people I know who have shoe fetishes – they would hold the knowledge I thought. And they did, but it was not the answer I wanted. Apparently there is a dearth of footwear manufacturers on our shores now and what is here, I had found. I was stymied. I was going to have to resort to option two: buy shoes which have been manufactured in a country with robust and fair labour laws. Although not ideal, this is my go to default.

Every story should have a happy ending or at least an upside, I think. And this one does. I may not be able to buy suitable NZ made shoes for the wedding, but the man will have no such problem, providing he gives the size 12 stilettos a miss and chooses lace ups instead.

*Sadly, there is often a devastating economic and social impact on local communities in NZ when the main industry in the area closes down or decides to go offshore.

**When I first drafted this post, I found myself drifting into the areas of sweat shops and carbon footprints. I also shared my thoughts on supporting firms in NZ who have been found to have  unethical and sometimes illegal working conditions. Although I don’t want to deflect from or downplay the seriousness of any of this, I edited this section out as I felt this blog was not the platform to air it. Suffice to say, I do my best to buy responsibly.

Falling over

I have a confession: my work life balance totally turned to custard the first week back at work. Not to put too fine a point on it, this was of great concern to me. Was this the end of my quest for a new lifestyle? Why had it happened and could it be sorted? I had some thinking to do.

It transpired that my work life balance had been compromised by two things; the eight hour working day being the first. This is of course a misnomer; with travel and lunch factored in, it is for me the 10 hour  day.  This scenario is repeated 5 days per week.  In many respects, I am lucky as my travelling time is only half an hour driving each way to my temporary site*. Indeed, I have had commutes in the past that have totalled two to three hours per day. And these times are the best case scenarios; if the roads are gridlocked for whatever reason, the travelling time can be pushed out even further. I have had two experiences of one hour journeys turning into three hour marathons as the result of accidents. These were years ago, but the not so fond memories linger.

Now I do reside in New Zealand’s biggest city with its notoriously poor transport links and I have been known to live on one side of the city and work on the other. I should say at this stage that I am not trying to elicit sympathy, rather there is personal responsibility at play here and living and working at opposite ends of the city is a choice I made (uninformed perhaps, but my choice nonetheless!)**

The point is that working a 40 hour working week with travelling and lunch breaks added in becomes a 50 to 60 hour weekly commitment without too much trouble.  When I get home from work and dinner is made and eaten, there are two to three hours remaining before bed beckons.  (I am a person who needs 8 hours a night sleep).

Now in theory two to three hours should be enough time to introduce at least some balance, but I have found that there is a direct  correlation with what happens at work and what I am capable of doing when I get home.The reality is a full on working day at the coal face means I am tired at the end of the day, so it is not unknown for me to sometimes default to the ‘zone out in front of the TV’ leisure option. Yes, complete with the dress code of unattractive, but incredibly comfortable pyjamas, and slippers that have seen better days.  I am the first to admit that TV watching is not a productive use of my day, especially when I have other more important things to achieve like a healthy work life balance, but the fact is it happens and happen it did last week.

Which brings me to the second reason my work life balance was derailed when I returned to work.** It transpired I was not just tired, I was fighting off an illness. It won. Sadly, it presented itself as the ‘just well enough to go to work, but once home, go straight to bed’  variety of sickness, rather than the ‘stay at home tucked up warmly with a good book’ type. This resulted in there being work in my day, but zip anything else.

This week I am pleased to report I am better. I have energy and am back to using my three hours per night to live a more balanced life. Having said this, it is still a far cry from the lifestyle that the man and I think is optimal for us. We therefore remain committed to our goal of working less to live more within two years (21 months to go!). In the meantime, I have made the following note to self:

  1. The commute to work cannot be at the expense of slow living – remember this when choosing the 3 day per week job.
  2. Watch TV selectively and turn it off at end of programme.
  3. Treading water, even going backwards, when making changes will happen. This is OK.
  4. Wearing comfortable pyjamas and scruffy slippers*** is always de rigueur for the over 50s.

* Public transport is a very convoluted affair: 2 buses and 2 hours more travelling time added to my day.

** Commuting across town was for a great job.

*** Scruffy slippers were too awful to photograph!

Living Gracefully

East Coast Bays Library
East Coast Bays Library

Sadly, it’s the last day of my three week holiday. Although it was a low key affair, I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Today we had arranged to meet friends for coffee in Browns Bay. As it was threatening rain, I suggested that the car might be the way to go. The man very firmly told me that the weather would hold and we couldn’t pike out on our commitment to slow living at the first hint of inclement weather. Suitably chastised, I agreed to walk it. I even left the rain jacket behind to demonstrate my wild side.

On the way, we spotted a seemingly abandoned mobility scooter. I commented to the man that the owner of this machine was probably Fran* who would be delivering pamphlets, and I was right. The last time I had seen her was about eight months before when she and her partner had come to the library for books on cats as theirs was sick.

Remembering this, I asked how the cat was. The answer was that she had passed away, but they had a new kitten to love who had been a stray. We commiserated with Fran over the death and congratulated her on the new cat. As we parted company, I mentioned I would be back doing the book club at the home where she lives in the next month or two and would pop in to see her new moggy.

For Fran and her partner, home is a residential care facility for adults who have a disability such as spina bifida, Parkinson’s or head injuries. For some, this will be their home for a short time, whereas others will live here for most of their adult life.

Every month the library ladies, as we are called, run a book club for the residents**. It is one of the highlights of my calendar and, hopefully, theirs too. Over the time we have been visiting, the relationship has changed from librarians and customers to one of friends.

Our more able bodied friends will now pop into the library for books and/or just to say hi to us as they are passing by. On occasion, the library ladies have been known to morph into the taxi ladies who drive them home – it is after all an easy walk down to the bay, but the return journey is hard when tired.

Living life with a disability is without doubt a challenge. In spite of this, our friends at the home live their lives with good humour, dignity and grace. ***

On the way home from our coffee with friends, it was raining slightly. I didn’t whinge.

*Nom de plume used

**It is totally irrelevant if any books are taken or not

** *Hats off to the staff who work there. They are an amazing bunch of people who work hard to ensure the residents  have the best quality of life possible. Sadly, the workers in this industry are undervalued and poorly paid.

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